Chapter 1- Time to Join the Club
June 6, 2007
Marko had quite forgotten the second reason why tonight was a special night. To anyone else, it was an ordinary weeknight, late in spring. Though the summer had already kicked off a week ago at the Boardwalk with the advent of Memorial Day, the calendar still claimed that summer was some two weeks away.
It didn’t feel like summer, either. The fog that had blanketed the coast didn’t blow off until some time after two p.m. It returned early in the evening to cover up the bright night stars. A cool offshore breeze blew, that promised relief to the overcast conditions by the early morning hours. Despite the chill, tourists still flocked to the Boardwalk and the beach in droves. Nightfall didn’t chase many away, either. Bright bonfires flickered merrily, while revelers of many different ages crowded around them to sing, dance and drink. Freshly graduated high-school and college students celebrated the end of the school year. Surf punks, skaters, gang bangers and Goths all kept their bonfires separate from each other. Yet there were no turf wars on the beach. The beach belonged to everyone. It was an unspoken rule.
Alex and Laddie woke up for brief moments during the day, reveling in their last sunlit moments. When the sun began to set, they enjoyed their last moments as mortals, making love as the sun dipped slowly below the horizon. When twilight fell, they were ready to pack up their belongings and make their way to the cliffs above, carefully picking their path through the steep upgrade and many large boulders.
Marko was waiting for them in the upper chamber. Thorn raised his head in a half hearted welcome, and then settled back down to resume his nap. Alex and Laddie both smelled of sea salt and sunlight. They both looked nervous, but Marko noted that Alex in particular also looked hungry.
“Are you sure you’re ready?” Marko asked. Though his question was primarily directed towards his Childe, any response of Laddie’s would be welcome too.
Alex nodded soberly.
“I’m good to go,” Laddie replied, shifting his weight from foot to foot.
Marko nodded and motioned for the two of them to follow him down into the lower sanctum. There, the rest of the pack waited to welcome them.
Once they were seated and settled, Paul lit up a joint and gave it to the half vampires to share. David grabbed the jeweled bottle and held it aloft.
“Tonight, I propose a toast. Three of them, actually. The first is for our newest fledgling, Ryan. Welcome to the Club!”
Shouted cheers echoed around the ballroom as David took a hearty swig from the bottle. Then, he passed it to Ryan, who drank and passed it on. Around the group the bottle went until it was returned to David.
“The second toast is for Laddie and Alex, who have been members of the pack for quite awhile, but are now taking their final steps to immortality.”
The cheers resounded again, and like before, the bottle made its rounds throughout the assembled group. When the bottle was returned to David, there was enough liquid left for one more toast.
David raised the bottle again and addressed the group.
“Tonight another member of our pack is celebrating an anniversary. Forty years ago, Marko chose eternal life over certain death. Now, on this special night, he will welcome his Childe into eternity. Here’s to Marko and forty wonderful years knowing you!”
Marko felt an unusual heat color his cheeks as his pack mates once again shouted and hooted around him. David took another sip and passed the bottle to Marko, clapping him on the back.
“Let the good times roll!” Paul chimed, helping himself to the bottle once Marko took a drink.
Dwayne was next to clap Marko on the shoulder.
“It doesn’t feel like that long, does it?” he asked.
Marko shook his head.
“No, it doesn’t,” he replied quietly.
Alex and Laddie were silent after a time. Neither of them had even seen the passage of forty years as mortals. To them, forty years as an immortal seemed nearly incalculable. Ryan, too, found it amazing. Like Alex, he wouldn’t know forty years on this earth for another two decades.
“So, how old does that make you total?” Alex finally ventured to ask.
Marko gave her a cheeky smile.
“Don’t you hope you’ll look as good as me when you’re fifty eight?”
“Old Fart!” Paul hooted as he lit up another fatty.
“Speak for yourself, you middle aged rocker wanna-be!” Marko quipped good- naturedly.
“Middle aged, maybe. But….wanna be? Ah, hell no!” Paul countered, banging his head in emphasis. His hair, which still retained the longer length of his days as a mortal in the early 80’s, flew around wildly. He didn’t bother to straighten out his blonde mane when he finished with his rocker’s bravado, either.
The joint was passed around the group, with the exception of Laddie and Alex, who had been given their own, private hooter to share. The weed helped to soothe their nerves and make them good and hungry. Once all joints were extinguished, David turned to them.
“It’s now or never,” he said. His expression was calm, but dead serious. The time for fun and games was over for the moment.
Dwayne glanced at Laddie and studied him. Many years had passed since he’d been but a child in their midst. They’d sheltered him and helped him through the agonizing pangs of hunger that had ripped through his small frame, knowing then that the time for him to embrace the darkness wouldn’t come until he was older. After twenty years, the night had arrived. Laddie looked ready; fully comprehending now what he couldn’t as a nine year old boy.
Ryan was first to make his way to the upper chamber. David followed soon after, urging the two half vampires with a backwards glance over his shoulder. He seemed collected externally, but his nerves were beginning to jangle. What if one or both of them failed to make their first kill tonight? After nearly six months as a half for Laddie, and even longer for Alex, they both demonstrated that they had the power to fight down the cravings and stay sane. Guilt was a powerful deterrent in the moments just before a kill. Being allowed to look into the eyes of their victims or hear the fear in their screams could bring their bloodlust to a screeching halt. He sincerely hoped they’d conquer their last ties to human emotion when the time came.
Alex and Laddie each emerged along with their appointed Sires. Paul brought up the rear, helping to herd the fledglings along. They all assembled at the mouth of the cavern. Suddenly, Laddie looked pensive.
“Uh, guys, I think there’s one thing I should mention,” he said, nervously looking around.
“What’s that?” David asked, trying to hide his growing concerns.
“It’s the flying stuff. I hate to admit it, but I’m like a lead balloon. I’ve tried and tried, but I can’t do more than levitate for a few moments...”
“Maybe it’s the blood plasma I gave you before. You learned to rely on your strength, so that you could run and jump over obstacles instead of fly,” Dwayne told him soberly.
“I’d think maybe that was it, but I was kind of the same way as a kid. Of course, I never really tried to fly back then, either. I never needed to, really.”
“Don’t be afraid,” Marko said, “I’ll bet its fear keeping your feet on the ground. Trust me, flying is instinct. I’ve never met a vampire that died because he hit the ground while airborne.”
“Well, as a vampire, I doubt I would die unless I landed on a wooden stake. But as a half….”
“We won’t let you fall,” Dwayne told him.
Just like in times past, both Paul and Dwayne took to Laddie’s sides. Alex positioned herself between Paul’s other side, and Marko, who took position to flank her. David and Ryan partnered up. On David’s nod, Paul and Dwayne each cupped a hand beneath Laddie’s arms. With a whoosh of noise, they were airborne, piloting Laddie out into the night. The others followed in pairs, close by. When the vampires reached the more isolated side of the beach on the other side of the wharf, Laddie had managed to straighten out his body like his pack mates, and was learning to navigate on his own. His landing was rough, though, and he would have tumbled head over heels if it hadn’t been for Dwayne and Paul’s steadying assistance.
“You really can’t fly for shit, can you?” Dwayne joked, clapping Laddie on the back.
Laddie shook his head, feeling a bit sheepish.
David surveyed the area with a feeling of satisfaction. He had paid attention to the papers and had chosen this group of revelers with Ryan in mind, despite the fact that it was Laddie and Alex’s initiation. There was a Biker’s convention gathering this weekend, and several were already here, beginning their festivities early. They met every year. Now and then, the Boys would nail a couple of them when they needed replacement parts for their bikes. Tonight, Ryan could have his pick of the machines the half dozen or so bikers that were gathered on the lonely stretch of beach had parked up just beneath the wharf, where they could keep an eye on them. These were ‘real’ bikes, Choppers and Harleys; not the rice rocket Ryan likely had back in Phoenix.
In addition to the six or seven bikers, a couple of them had their chicks with them. Most of them wore the typical biker attire; jeans with leather chaps, boots, and heavy metal or biker logo T-shirts. Helmets, gloves and other accessories were carefully laid aside while they drank and carried on to the heavy metal music blaring from a decent battery operated sound system. An ice cooler was propped open, and well stocked with beer, wine coolers, and a couple of bottles of harder stuff. There were also cans of soda pop and a few packages of weenies to roast in the fire. The bonfire blazed merrily, and the bikers were completely unaware of the predator party that watched them from the rocky outcropping nearby.
“Bikers are pretty friendly fellows,” David explained to Ryan, Laddie, and Alex, “We’re gonna pull the ‘Let’s go blaze tactic. Get ‘em stoned. Make them comfortable and unawares. Then we’re gonna go ‘Michael Myers’ on them.”
David seemed completely happy with this arrangement. Laddie, of course, already knew that head games were one of David’s favorite sports.
Paul had the party favors ready. Nonchalantly, they approached the group of bikers once Paul lit a generously stuffed fatty. The smell of pot wafted out as a greeting before any words were exchanged. Several of the bikers looked up with interest. Most of them looked several years older than the Boys appeared to be, but that didn’t stop them from greeting the younger crowd with friendly smiles.
“Nice night for a bonfire, isn’t it?” David greeted with a neutral smile.
“Indeed it is. It’s always a bit chilly around these parts at night, even in the summer, but I like it. Where I’m from, the daytime temps get well up over a hundred degrees, so it’s a nice change of pace,” one man answered pleasantly.
David sized him up. He was a lanky, middle aged guy with an eagle inked on his forearm, and reddish brown hair. His close cropped beard matched his hair exactly. David could tell that he was most likely the spokesperson or the leader of this small group. At his side was an equally lanky, dark haired, dark eyed woman that looked to be the same age as him. She could be of either Hispanic or Native descent.
“Where are you from?” David asked, keeping up his friendly demeanor.
“Stockton. Heard of it?”
“It’s inland, right?”
“Yep. That’s right. The armpit of California.”
David chuckled appreciatively at the man’s joke.
“You guys from around here?”
“We all live here.” David responded truthfully.
“Why don’t you guys join us? By the way, I’m Steve. This is my old lady, Heather.”
Soon, introductions went around, and so did the joint. Steve made sure that the booze flowed freely. Before long, Alex and Laddie were loosening up so much; they were forgetting that they were there for the grisly business of making their first kills. But David was ever watchful. He kept his eyes on his pack at all times. Marko and Dwayne were also vigilant. It was good for the two of them to get relaxed. Yet, it wouldn’t be good if their senses got so dulled; they no longer felt their bloodlust. After a bit, David nodded to Dwayne and Marko. Marko nudged Paul, and the Boys rose. This prompted the fledglings to follow suit.
“It’s been nice sitting with you, but we have to get going,” David said.
“Sure, no problem. Take it easy,” Steve replied. He asked no questions and expected no explanations. He certainly didn’t expect what came next, either.
The Boys were experienced hunters, and easily went from friend to fang in a matter of seconds. David pegged Steve as his, and had him restrained; with his fangs in his arteries before the man scarcely had a chance to cry out. Heather, on the other hand saw all that happened and shrieked in terror. Dwayne silenced her in a matter of seconds, making a point of gashing at her neck for a show of arterial spray. He wanted to excite Laddie’s bloodlust and drive him into a kill frenzy. By now, Ryan had found himself an unlucky victim and was happily glutting himself, and Paul was making a feast for Alex’s benefit on the neck of a heavyset biker in a Harley Davidson T-shirt. Marko drained a leather skinned fellow more for Alex’s good than for his own appetite, and then chased his girlfriend down when she tried to run from the carnage. Two other bikers were being restrained as well, one by Paul, and one by Dwayne.
Both Alex and Laddie were in full fang and their eyes were blazing amber. Alex was shaking like an autumn leaf about to fall from a tree. Laddie managed to look a little more composed.
“Okay, you two, hurry this up. I gotta get ready for a date,” Paul said, forcibly jerking the mort he restrained back and forth as if the was trying to entice a cat with a piece of string.
“Not funny Paul,” Marko snapped.
Alex tracked the mort’s movements and sniffed at the air. She gazed at Laddie. Their feral eyes connected for a moment. Then she looked at Marko, who had the woman in a restraining hold. For a moment, she considered her three choices. There was the thirty something chick. A middle age man; closer to fifty than forty. The remaining choice was the youngest looking member of the biker’s group. He was a young man who looked to be in his early twenties and could possibly be the middle aged man’s son. Finally, the time for decisions was over, and Alex made a dive for the middle aged man. She briefly heard him plead as she slammed into him. As her teeth pierced his flesh, she remembered what Marko said:
“Once you come over into darkness, you no longer feel guilt.”
She hoped it was true.
Laddie watched Alex, and memories of the past slammed into him. He remembered Star, and the nights they spent fighting the cravings. Now, he was suddenly at the threshold of a whole new life. He would be the one thing she swore she could never be.
Could he do it? Could he be a cold blooded killer?
Would he stop loving if he became one?
“Come on, Laddie. Make your choice. Join us!” David urged.
Alex looked up from her feeding and rested her eyes on Laddie. Her gaze was full of hunger and longing. He fell into that look for a moment.
“You can do it. Don’t think about it. Just do it,” Dwayne said to him.
His Sire’s voice cut through his thoughts like a knife, reminding him of all the reasons he’d wanted to give up his mortal existence in the first place. He had no family any more save for the Boys and Alex. He loved them.
His mind flashed back through the years, when Paul had stood between the Frog brothers and the stakes they’d wielded to protect him and Star from what he’d believed to be a life threatening situation for them. Paul had nearly died as a result of his actions that night. To Laddie, it was all the proof he needed that emotions close to love and caring still existed even when one chose to embrace the darkness. It was possible to be a killer, but not cold blooded. In that moment his mind was made up. Now he just needed to choose a victim.
For some reason, he was unable to take down the young man just beginning his life, even though the woman begged and pleaded for her life louder. Laddie paused for a moment and took the last mortal breath he’d ever need. He was unable to look the woman in the eye. In his mind, he apologized to her, though no words were spoken aloud. Then, without a conscious thought beyond that, his head shot forward, and his fangs embedded themselves into her jugular. Cheers erupted from the Boys as Laddie gulped at the hot rush of blood that filled his mouth. The woman sagged against Marko as her life was quickly drained away from her.
The young man that Paul restrained didn’t have long to consider his luck or feel any sort of relief or sadness. Ryan dispatched him with a young vampire’s needy bloodlust in a very short time. Soon, there were eight bodies piled around the bonfire. The Boys and Ryan disposed of the corpses and cleaned up the kill site in their usual way after dispersing any valuables among the pack. Alex and Laddie were given the rare honor of getting first dibs after David, since it was their first kill, and they were not expected to participate with any of the post kill chores. They were now experiencing the new vampire’s feeding swoon, and were not capable of doing much more than sitting on the beach in a daze.
David led Ryan to where the group of bikes was parked. Keys had been retrieved from the victim’s pockets. Ryan looked over the carefully parked row. All of them were top of the line and well tended, even if they weren’t all brand new. Leather seats shone with conditioning. Chrome and mirrors were polished with obvious care, since these folks had been meeting at a biker’s convention. David nudged him towards one.
“Here’s one I could see you on. It’s a Harley 1200 Sportster. ’98, by the looks of it. You like?”
Ryan’s eyes shone.
“Yeah. I dig it,” he replied.
“Climb aboard. See how it feels,” David told him.
Ryan tried it out. He also tried out a few a few others, but returned to the Sportster with a satisfied nod. They tried out the keys until they finally found the right one.
“Congratulations. You finally have a bike!” David said with a smile.
Paul was glancing at the clock on his cell phone when David and Ryan returned pushing the Harley between them. Laddie and Alex stood between their respective Sires with glazed looking expressions.
“Say, do you guys mind getting the newbies settled in the cave tonight? Like I mentioned, I got a date tonight,” Paul said, pocketing his cell phone.
“What kind of asshole makes date on the night of his own daughter’s initiation into darkness?” Marko asked with a hint of annoyance.
“Look at her! She’s totally zombified! She’ll do nothing but sleep! Besides, you’re her Sire. You get to baby sit her tonight. And, I have to work tomorrow. So, tell me, when’s a good time?”
“Let him have his date, Marko. He’s right. Alex won’t even know he’s gone,” David interjected.
“If Laddie rouses, tell him I used his shower and borrowed some fresh duds. I sure don’t wanna smell like Kill Cologne,” Paul remarked with a casual wave. Then he trotted off down the beach to someplace isolated, so he could take to the air towards the government garages where his bike was kept. From there, he would ride to Laddie’s, shower, and then meet his date.
David watched him go and was suddenly struck with the realization that Ryan would need a key card from Shelby so he could park his bike within the safe confines of the government garages. For now, he could ride it as far as Hudson’s Bluff. The Boys would then have to fly lift it over the ravine and park it in their old hideout until a key was obtained. Heavy objects like motorcycles would take a two or three man lift for any distance, but nearly anything was possible with a vampire’s strength. Finally, he turned to the rest of the group. It was time to get the newest members home.
“Okay, Boys, let’s go,” he said. Then, after a moment’s hesitation, he added, “Boys and..girl..”